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Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Malverne moves to end suit
Three staffers had sued for discrimination
By Howard Schwach
Herald file photos
Dr. James Hunderfund, left, Malverne’s superintendent of schools, and Sherwyn Besson, one of three former staffers who is suing Hunderfund and other school officials for racial discrimination.

Attorneys for the Malverne school district moved in U.S. District Court last week for a summary judgment that would end a racial discrimination lawsuit filed in December 2011 against Malverne High School and district administrators.

The suit targeted the high school’s principal, James Brown, Superintendent of Schools James Hunderfund and administrators Rose Linda Ricca and Vincent Romano. Brown has since retired, replaced by Romano, and Ricca is now deputy superintendent.

The plaintiffs, all African-Americans and former staffers in district schools, are Betsy Benedith, Sherwyn Besson and Kenneth Smith.

“There was a pervasive atmosphere is racial discrimination that extends through all levels of administration and teaching,” the suit claimed. “Three African-American teachers and administrators, the plaintiffs herein, have suffered from an administration that has limited their opportunities to advance, retaliated against their employment and even their children, and ultimately tried to remove them through termination, excess or transfer.”

Benedith, a former assistant principal at the high school whom the district let go in June 2011 despite student protests, accused Brown, who is also black, of treating white employees more favorably in order to avoid the appearance of impropriety that favoring blacks might create.

Besson, a former business teacher at the high school, claimed he was subjected to increasing discrimination, resulting in the loss of his position. He further alleged that his two children, who were students in the district, were subjected to retaliation for his complaints of discrimination.

Smith, who taught math at the high school for five years, claimed that the district discriminated against him in his course assignments, his access to professional development and classroom equipment, and his economic opportunities. The final act of discrimination, Smith said, was his transfer from the high school to the Howard T. Herber Middle School.

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